Get Your Game On! Interview with Cartoonist and Gaming Nostalgist Zac Gorman
It sounds incredible. One day Zac Gorman is just an ordinary illustrator struggling to make a living doing what he loves and the next he’s the unintentional force behind a bonafide (viral) internet meme called Dumb Running Sonic. And even though Gorman may have just been doing what came natural he’s found a brand new audience eager for more (myself included).
Today we’ll learn a little more about how Gorman got his start, why the 80s were so great for video games and exactly what makes game time so magical (hint: it’s all about the love, baby).
Thanks for making the trip to the clubhouse, Zac! What’s your beverage of choice… Mountain Dew or Mellow Yellow?
Thanks for having me! Man, I gotta be honest with you, I’m a Dew drinker born and bred. I wouldn’t give up my Dew for anything.
Somehow I knew you’d say that. So tell us about life in Dearborn (MI), what was it like for you growing up in the 80s?
I grew up in what I’d consider a pretty normal suburb. I spent a lot of time playing video games, probably more than anything else. I watched a lot of cartoons of course, but video games had a strange magic that really hooked me. Us kids of the 80s were in just the right place at the right time to really grow up alongside the rise of the video game industry.
What was the first console that you owned? Did you have any favorite games as a kid?
The first console I ever owned was an NES. Of course, I was a big fan of the original Zelda, but I also really loved Mega Man games, Mega Man 2 in particular.
How did your interest in video games become an interest in drawing video game related comics?
I actually attribute my interest in making digital art almost entirely to my experiences with playing Mario Paint over at a friend’s house when I was about seven or eight years old (I never actually owned the game myself). As far as actually making game comics though, I think that was more about wanting to explore my personal relationship with games. I like to think my stuff is at it’s best when it can hit that note, rather than just being about game fandom.
After high school you attended Kendall Collage of Art and Design, but art wasn’t the only career you considered. What other field(s) did you consider?
I wanted to be a psychologist for a while. Actually, I think I would have been pretty good at it. I’m still a big fan of Carl Jung.
What’s the best lesson you received during your time at Kendall (either inside or outside of school)?
Just that you only get out of something what you put into it… and if you’re putting tens of thousands of dollars into something you better damn well try to get SOMETHING out of it.
Your experience after college was less than pleasant (in respect to your job). How did your time as a designer in California inspire/influence you to go into webcomics?
It was definitely an escapist thing for me at first. Maybe even more than dissatisfaction with my job though, my first comics were a way to assuage my loneliness. I was living with my girlfriend out there, but she was busy with school and all my friends were back home. I was finding it hard to meet new people.
A recent turning point for you has been thanks in part to Sonic the Hedgehog. Can you tell us a little about the background behind that piece and how the meme got started? Did you ever imagine that such a simple concept would have such… legs?
That was honestly a total fluke thing that’s relative success was a pleasant surprise to me. It was really just a one off joke that I almost didn’t post because I thought it was so stupid. I guess the lesson there is to post everything.
Although the term “motion comic” is not new, its not something employed a lot in webcomics. How/Where did the idea to use it first originate?
I saw a couple other artists who were applying it with some success and I thought that there was room to explore the idea even further. It’s important to me to keep the motion elements as a sort of background character to the piece, and to never let them totally dominate a panel or page. I’d like to think that looping motions and miniature animations embedded within scenes will soon be such a common feature of webcomics that we might be able to stop differentiating them as “motion comics” and just start to view motion elements as another aspect of digital comic art.
Your work today seems to tap into a shared (often emotional) nostalgia of 80s pop culture (NES, TMNT, etc), specifically video games. What is it about these games that continues to inspire you?
I just like to think more about the intimate bond that we have with these characters. Truthfully, when it comes to something like the Legend of Zelda, I’m not really interested in the history of Hyrule or why Link wears a green tunic or has a bird on his shield, but I am interested in how these games made us feel, how we related to them and why we found something – that is at a cursory glance so simple = as profound and life-changing as we all did. I think there is room to explore nostalgia in an interesting way if you can move beyond some of the trappings of fandom.
Link is obviously one of your virtual heroes, but who are a few of your real life heroes? Is there anyone that has greatly influenced you?
Artistically, my tastes are pretty diverse. There are a lot of comic artists, game designers, writers, musicians, etc. without whom I could not be doing what I do (or at least I wouldn’t have anybody left to steal from and my work would get pretty dull), but for some reason being asked to nail down a few always makes me anxious. Shigesato Itoi, Bill Watterson, Jim Henson, Lewis Trondheim, Shigeru Miyamoto, Yoshitaka Amano… that’s a shortlist of people who would probably be at my fantasy dinner party. I’d probably also need a translator there.
*Laughs* You’re one of many artists who have begun to use Tumblr to spread your work. What advantages(s) do platforms like Tumblr and Twitter give you that didn’t exist before?
It’s hard for me to even say because without social media platforms like those, I simply couldn’t have found a big enough audience to support myself doing what I’m doing now. Tumblr is especially nice because it’s so easy to gain an audience and get some exposure.
Fair enough. Let’s go for the High Score then… what’s the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?
When I was a little kid, I got an old costume jewelry necklace from my mother and gave it to a girl I liked. She asked me where I got it from and I panicked, too embarrassed to tell her that it had belonged to my mother, so I said I stole it. She gave it back because it turned out that she didn’t want to wear a hot necklace. Also, I was pretty convinced that I found a magic keychain once, so much so that I carried it around with me for years. Turns out it was barely magical at all.